Operators of commercial anaerobic digestion (AD) plants frequently note the challenge of transferring research results to an industrial setting, especially in matching well-controlled laboratory studies at a constant organic loading rate (OLR) with full-scale digesters subject to day-to-day variation in loadings. This study compared the performance of food waste digesters at fluctuating and constant OLR. In a long-term experiment over nearly three years, variable daily OLR with a range as wide as 0 to 10.0 g VS L−1
(weekly average 5.0 g VS L−1
) were applied to one laboratory-scale digester, while a pair of control digesters was operated at a constant daily loading of 5.0 g VS L−1
. Different schemes of trace elements (TE) supplementation were also tested to examine how they contributed to process stability. Variable loading had no adverse impact on biogas production or operational stability when 11 TE species were dosed. When TE addition was limited to cobalt and selenium, the stability of the variable-load digester was well maintained for nearly 300 days before the experiment was terminated, while the control digesters required re-supplementation with other TE species to reverse an accumulation of volatile fatty acids. This work demonstrated that variation in daily OLR across quite a wide range of applied loadings is possible with no adverse effects on methane production or stability of food waste digestion, giving confidence in the transferability of research findings. The positive effect of variable OLR on TE requirement requires further investigation considering its practical significance for AD industry.
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